WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,questioned senior Trump Administration officials, including David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, about U.S. strategy to counter China’s aggression and reports that President Trump has considered removing U.S. troops based in South Korea.
“One of my real concerns is ways in which the Trump Administration has enabled China's growing influence by threatening and in some cases succeeding in abruptly withdrawing troops or withdrawing us from international organizations,” Senator Coons asked Assistant Secretary Stilwell. “Assistant Secretary Stilwell, if I might – just to put a point on that, the administration reportedly weighed withdrawing troops from South Korea, a move that garnered bipartisan concern on this committee and on the Hill. Can you assure us the administration is no longer considering a withdrawal of troops from South Korea, and that if any such changes were made, it wouldn't happen without close consultation with our allies and partners, as well as with Congress?”
Mr. Stilwell responded: “Thank you, Senator. Of course these issues all require cooperation, so, agreed. We’ll consult, but there is no discussion of that in the State Department.”
The full video is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Sen. Coons: Thank you, Chairman Risch, Ranking Member Menendez, for this important hearing and thank you to our witnesses. China is, as we all recognize, the greatest foreign policy challenge the United States faces today, and how we engage with China will shape this century, our place in the world, and our role. And there is bipartisan recognition – we are better equipped to compete with China if we work closely with our allies and partners from around the world, in particular who share not just our interests, but our values. So I want to commend Senator Menendez, Senator Rubio, and others for the crafting and introduction of the ACTSA bill. I just wanted to commend the introduction of a bipartisan bill that recognizes the significance, the centrality of Latin and South America, which are not only closest to us geographically, but integral to our country's culture, our economy, our role in the world.And China's efforts to undermine or replace our relationships in this region, as well as in the Indo-Pacific are concerning – even alarming. There are positives – we've all talked about the DFC. The good news I think is that in every region, we want to see more of this powerful tool that can help advance transparency in American engagement. One of my real concerns is ways in which the Trump Administration has enabled China's growing influence by threatening and in some cases succeeding in abruptly withdrawing troops or withdrawing us from international organizations. So let me ask a few questions designed to get some clarity around that if I might. Mr. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary Stilwell, if I might – just to put a point on that, the administration reportedly weighed withdrawing troops from South Korea, a move that garnered bipartisan concern on this committee and on the Hill. Can you assure us the administration is no longer considering a withdrawal of troops from South Korea, and that if any such changes were made, it wouldn't happen without close consultation with our allies and partners, as well as with Congress?
Mr. Stilwell: Thank you, Senator. Of course these issues all require cooperation, so, agreed. We’ll consult, but there is no discussion of that in the State Department.
Sen. Coons: Thank you. I respect and recognize that the administration is being forward-leaning in engagement with Taiwan. We're in a moment of great, I think, regional challenge, and I was wondering whether, as some commentators have suggested, there is some consideration of ending of strategic ambiguity and clarifying our commitment to Taiwan and whether if there were to be a public change in that position, that there would be consultation before that decision is taken.
Mr. Stilwell: Senator, that’s a very good question. It’s been one that’s been very publicly discussed. I gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation on clarifying the six assurances. The rationale behind that is to prevent and reverse PRC’s squeezing of Taiwan’s international space and get it back into a position that looks something like what we agreed to in 1979 with the Taiwan Relations Act. And that clarification is important. However, this was not an indication of a change in strategy or policy. It was simply reversing what we’ve seen globally, as far as picking off Taiwan partners, as far as keeping Taiwan from attending the World Health Assembly, which, the one place that figured out Corona first and understood it best were the people that could have helped out had they been allowed to participate. And any number of other multilateral activities that Taiwan is allowed to participate in meaningfully, and so we are working hard to clarify that. Thank you.
Sen. Coons: Thank you. Ms. Chung – if I might in the time I’ve got left – you mention the DFC being on track to deploy $12 billion in financing to Central America and the Caribbean. Tell me how State and USAID are coordinating. OPEC was long a piece of development strategy. DFC has a broader range of tools and resources and reach, and I think if we were to use the DFC as a way to advance our values in terms of transparency and higher labor standards and higher environmental standards, there also has to be, internally, coordination with USAID. How do you see that proceeding, and do you see any role for the DFC and for our presence in the region to directly combat digital authoritarianism and strengthen civil society, as is urged in the bipartisan legislation, ACTSA, that was referenced earlier by the ranking member?
Ms. Chung: Thank you for the question, Senator. In terms of USAID and State, we are in lock step in our China strategy. Through the America Crece, which is an inter-agency effort, but also through USAID’s clear choice framework that looks at governance, that makes sure that a procurement and civil society are all involved in the transparency efforts and to bring those issue to light when we hear about opaque deals from China or any other country. So we are working very closely – we are looking at USAID’s programs and State’s programs to make sure we are closely aligned. And the programs that we do on anti-corruption and civil society strengthening all go to build that space so that China’s malign influence don’t come and take over that space. So we are very much closely aligned with USAID. One example is in the illegal fishing area, which recently we saw in the Galapagos. USAID has programs with the World Wildlife Fund to work on natural resource strengthening programs. That also enables local groups to be able to fight back when we see Chinese fishing ships come back into the region. And in terms of DFC and working on digital authoritarianism, there’s no better example in the region than in Maduro’s regime, the authoritarian regime of Maduro, and working in close concert with China. The Chinese ZTE has long had a relationship with the Maduro regime in providing the carnet de patria, which spies on society and opposition leaders and determines who gets what food allocations within that country. And so right now, of course, we are not engaging in DFC in Venezuela, but in a democratic future, when we have a democratic transition in that country, we would love to bring DFC into it and help rebuild.
Sen. Coons: Thank you. Thank you to all of the witnesses. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.